Leaders from Beaverton, Washington, tour the Joint Office’s Laurelwood Center Shelter – learn lessons about community engagement and program success
March 11, 2022
In December 2017, neighbors worried about a new shelter on SE Foster Road piled into a contentious town hall meeting with elected officials from Multnomah County and the City of Portland.
Some neighbors were angry at the plan, some offered support, and many were just looking to find out more.
Less than two years later, when the Joint Office of Homeless Services ultimately opened the 120-bed shelter by August 2019, that acrimony had largely subsided. Neighbors came to an open house out of curiosity and a sense of support, and the president of the area’s business district was among the guest speakers.
What changed? In the days following this first community meeting, Commissioner Jessica Vega Pedersonwhose district includes the site of the refuge, stepped in with a plan to harness that energy. She created a community steering committee with neighbors that helped establish a lasting foundation of trust.
And on Friday, March 11, she met with regional county partners at the shelter, now called the Laurelwood Center. She reflected on this community building work and the positive difference the shelter has made for hundreds of people.
With the shelter operator, Transition projectsCommissioner Vega Pederson helped lead a tour that included the Mayor of Beaverton Lacey Beatypresident of washington county Catherine Harringtonand Washington County Commissioners Nafisa Fai and Pam Treece.
With unprecedented levels of state and regional funding finally available to address homelessness, leaders in Washington County and Beaverton are looking to add similar services in their communities to meet a growing need. Beaverton City Council is actively working consider where to stand a shelter like Laurelwood.
Mayor Beaty said she wants to see the shelter up close, speak with Transition Projects and learn more about the engagement process as she builds support for her city’s planned facility.
“We are really starting from scratch,” said Mayor Beaty. “We don’t have the infrastructure that Portland and Multnomah County have to deal with this problem. But we can all agree that this is a humanitarian crisis.
“We want to share our learnings with our partners,” added Commissioner Vega Pederson. “Because we know it’s not just a Portland problem. It is a regional problem.
The Laurelwood Center is a low-barrier shelter serving homeless women and couples. Transition Projects operates the shelter with funding from the Joint Office. Since opening in the summer of 2019, the shelter has served over 1,000 people and helped over 300 people transition into housing.
The tour began in the shelter’s enclosed courtyard, which features garden statues, a dog park, plenty of outdoor seating, and bicycle parking. Inside, he moved into the shelter’s commercial-grade kitchen.
Commissioner Vega Pederson cited both judgments as examples of the Steering Committee’s contributions.
Community members have insisted on both over the past months talking about the shelter’s programming and design. The kitchen allowed dozens of volunteers to treat the guests to meals. Among the volunteers: students from a nearby alternative high school who once asked about the proximity of a shelter. The dog enclosure, community members said, would help give shelter guests a healthy space to care for their beloved animal companions.
The tour then moved to the shelter’s clinical space, which will provide health services through a partnership with Outside In, and then to its disability-friendly toilets, showers and laundry room.
From here, visitors make their way through the refuge’s sleeping areas, where single beds and bunk beds are spread across several intentionally designed bays, rather than spread across one large room. Artwork lines the dividing walls, creating privacy while allowing healthy air circulation.
The last stop was a common area with computers, tables and chairs. On one side, staff sat in small desks dedicated to case management, housing assistance at work to get someone’s benefits, and other service connections.
Earlier in the tour, President Harrington asked the shelter’s on-site manager, Angel Roman, what kind of things a successful program should have. He pointed to the clinic as well as the case management spaces. It’s about bringing together as many services as possible in one place.
“So people don’t have to travel downtown or to the east” to meet basic needs like primary care appointments or getting ID cards, a- he declared. “It 100% makes it easier for people to get back on their feet.”
Stacy Borke, senior program director for Transition Projects and a member of Commissioner Vega Pederson’s original steering committee, said the most important thing for any shelter “is to make sure there’s a way out.”
Shelters work best when there are housing and support services waiting at the end of someone’s stay. When shelter clients see someone else moving into housing, Borke said, it means they know it can happen to them too.
“And this success is empowering and positive for everyone,” she said.
Commissioner Vega Pederson reminded the group that funding from the state and through the Metro Supportive Housing Services measure allows more of these things to be done.
Multnomah County is growing and improving its shelter system – with more shelters open now than before the pandemic. But the county is also adding more rent assistance and support services, so people in shelters can move on and find their own apartments.
“We’re working on investments in all areas, and we’re working as hard as we can as fast as we can,” she said. “It’s a step in the system. But we also know, and research has shown, that putting people in permanent supportive housing, where they not only have a roof over their head, but also the support services to succeed, is the best way to deal with this crisis.
For more information about the Laurelwood Center and the Steering Committee process, visit: ahomeforeveryone.net/foster.